One of the more recently discovered types of food poisoning caused by a protozoan Cryptosporidium, which means “hidden spore” in Greek. The tiny invisible microbe infects cells lining the intestinal tract and was identified as a cause of human disease in 1976.
In the United States, many outbreaks in childcare centers are never identified. The number of cases that occur each year are not well documented.
Some immunity follows infection, but the degree to which this immunity occurs is not clear.
This parasite lives its entire life within the intestinal cells; it produces worms (oocysts) that are excreted in feces. These infectious oocysts can survive outside the human body for long periods of time, passing into food and drinking water, onto objects, and spread from hand to mouth. Unfortunately, chlorine does not kill the protozoan; instead, drinking water must be filtered to eliminate it. Many municipal water supplies do not have the technology to provide this filter.
Because the bacteria is transmitted by the fecaloral route, the greatest risk occurs in those infected people who have diarrhea, those with poor personal hygiene, and diapered children.
Between one to 12 days after infection, the most common symptom is a watery diarrhea together with stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting, fever, headache, and loss of appetite. Some people with the infection do not experience any symptoms at all.
Healthy patients usually exhibit symptoms for about two weeks, but those with impaired immune systems may have a severe and lasting illness.
The infection is diagnosed by identifying the parasite during examination of the stool. If cryptosporidiosis is suspected, a specific lab test should be requested, since most labs do not yet routinely perform the necessary tests.
There is no standard treatment, but some patients may respond to some antiparasitic drugs. Intravenous fluids may be necessary, and antidiarrheal drugs may help.
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